When you're 1-11 on a 10-game losing streak and you've made so many "guarantees" of success that no one believes a word of it anymore, then the air is full of trade talk and fire-the-bums talk and do-something-even-if-it's-wrong talk. So here is today's Washington Capital report . . .
Mike Palmateer, the goaltender hailed as the man who would put the woebegone franchise in the playoffs for 10 years, now is angry at Caps' management and wants to be traded, according to sources around the National Hockey League.
The story is denied by Palmateer and Coach Gary Green. General Manager Max McNab said only, "That's a personal thing. I haven't heard any public statement on it."
Green on Palmateer asking out: "Not that I know of."
Palmateer: "I guess that's just locker room talk. I've never said anything to that effect."
A source near the team said three Caps reported Palmateer having words with McNab and Green during a road trip that ended Sunday with a loss to miserable Colorado. This was after Palmateer was fined two weeks ago for being late to practice.
"They said Palmateer asked to be traded," the source said, "and McNab and Green told him they were trying to trade him, but nobody wanted him."
A source in Montreal, where a newspaper carried rumors of a Ryan Walter trade to the Canadiens, said it was common knowledge around the NHL "that Palmateer is on his way out, and he wants to be on his way."
Palmateer hasn't played for four games. McNab said, "As far as talent goes, he still rates as good . . When he's right, he's a help."
The Montreal source discounted the Walter rumor as unreliable. McNab said, "We wouldn't entertain any thoughts of moving Walter . . . He's part of a nucleus of a few guys we feel we can build around."
Green and McNab admit the Caps are looking for an offensive-minded defenseman. McNab said he completed a deal last month to give up next year's No. 1 draft choice -- reportedly for Doug Wilson of Chicago -- only to have it rejected a day later.
"No question Max is trying to find that key guy on the blueline," Green said. "That guy would add to our play in our own end, and also give us better offense and a better power play. Teams don't mind taking a penalty, because they don't respect our power play."
Pittsburgh's offensive-minded defender, Randy Carlyle, has three goals and 12 assists. Detroit's Reed Larson has four goals and seven assists. The Caps have no one close to those numbers. Rick Green, a No. 1 draft choice in 1976, hasn't scored.
"Rick Green is certainly an above-average defenseman," Gary Green said. "But he is not offensive-minded. He is not a Reed Larson, Randy Carlyle or Denis Potvin."
Looking for a bright spot at that defenseman's job, McNab praised Timo Blom-qvist. "In only four games, he has four points -- but he was robbed of two of them by official decisions. We haven't put pressure on him to carry the club, certainly, but he appears capable of playing both ends."
Six teams need a goaltender of Palma-teer's ability. The Rangers are desperate. But it is unlikely anyone will give a star de-fenseman for a goalie whose team is 1-11.
If Palmateer's job is in jeopardy, what about Gary Green's?
Though attendance at Cap Centre remains a 10,000-ticket tribute to the loyalty of Washington hockey fans, owner Abe Pollin must make a move to reassure the faithful he hasn't given up.
Pollin won't talk to the press these days, so the paying customers must search for clues to his thinking.
"He's upset," said Lou Corletto, the Caps' publicity man.
"We're all anxious, and I'm sure Abe is too," said McNab, whose job isn't safe either, after six years of the Caps drifting under his direction.
"When I pick up newspapers and see, 'Gary Green, the youngest coach in the NHL, may become the youngest ex-coach,' I certainly can't ignore the possibility," Green said.
"But I can't spend time thinking or worrying about that, because then I'm cheating Abe. I owe him all my time. I look back at Pittsburgh the year they started 1-10 and wound up with 86 points. They put it together, and I'm an optimist -- we'll come out of this thing far better than anybody can hope right now."
How many more times will Caps' customers hear promises before promises are made real? The hiring of Palmateer "guaranteed" a spot in the playoffs, to quote the goaltender. Pollin said his dramatic hiring of Gary Green, then 26, was a bold move toward the playoffs. The signing of Bobby Carpenter this summer would do it.
The Caps instead are off to the worst start ever. The Islanders, only two years older, have won the last two Stanley Cup championships. The Islanders have been in 96 playoff games, the Caps in zero-zilch-blanko-none. The Islanders did it with stars named Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies -- all of whom the Caps passed up in the draft.
Now, at 1-11, more promises.
What the customers deserve from Pollin is action. If he likes McNab and Green too much to fire them, he must prod them into trades that offer immediate help.
Trade Palmateer and a No. 1 to Montreal for benched goalie Richard Sevigny and two or three of the Canadiens' surplus players.
Or trade Dennis Maruk and Rick Green and a No. 1 to Hartford for Tommy Rowe and Mark Howe.
Either that, or give the customers their money back. That's what a guarantee usually means.